How Does the Jury Selection Process Work in Utah Homicide Trials?

There will be several important phases in your homicide case. However, few of them are arguably as important as jury selection.

In most Utah homicide trials, the jury is the group of people responsible for deciding the defendant’s future. Thus, choosing the right jurors in the jury selection process is critical. Our attorneys can help you select jurors who will act fairly and take the responsibility of sitting on a homicide jury seriously. If a juror harbors feelings or has a history that would make them decide unfairly, we can have them removed from the jury pool before being sworn in. You have a right to a jury trial, and we believe that your jury should serve the interests of justice by weighing the evidence in your case impartially.

Call Overson Law, PLLC at (801) 758-2287 for a free case evaluation with our Salt Lake City homicide defense lawyers.

How Are Jurors Selected in Utah Homicide Cases?

When someone is charged with homicide in Utah, they have the right to trial by jury under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This ensures that an accused’s freedom is not only in the hands of a single government official, the judge. Most defendants would prefer to have a jury trial rather than a “bench” trial, where the judge acts in both roles.


Rule 18(a) of Utah’s Rules of Criminal Procedure gives two possible ways to select jurors, but does not make them the only options. The differences between these methods are subtle, but both essentially involve selecting a list of jurors and analyzing whether they should be struck for cause, with one method replacing struck jurors with fresh ones until the seats are filled.

Number of Jurors

If you have been charged with capital homicide, you are entitled to have 12 jurors hear your case, according to Utah Code § 78B-1-104(1)(a). With our Bountiful, UT homicide defense lawyers help, all 12 of your jurors might be willing to view the evidence fairly and end your case with an acquittal. If you were charged with a felony homicide offense that did not rise to the level of a capital crime, eight jurors will be selected, as per Utah Code § 78B-1-104(1)(b).


However, the process does not begin as soon as you are charged. The jury selection process, also known as “voir dire,” typically begins after both sides have argued motions in preliminary hearings and have the evidence that will be used in the trial. Once voir dire is complete, the jury will be set unless an emergency calls for an alternative juror. If the court does not have the required number of jurors, the case will result in a mistrial.

Capital Cases

Selecting the right jury is crucial in capital homicide cases because the same jury will decide both the defendant’s guilt as well as their sentence, under Utah Code § 76-3-207(1)(c). Homicide trials that could result in the death penalty with have the trial first, followed by a separate hearing to determine the defendant’s sentence. If the original jury cannot reconvene for the sentencing hearing, the court can dismiss that panel and call for a new jury to be convened.

How Can a Defense Attorney Help with the Voir Dire Process in a Homicide Case in Utah?

Voir dire is French for “to see to speak” and is the phase where the prosecution and defense can question prospective jurors. This allows both sides to probe individual jurors for biases and history that might work against their case. If an attorney believes a juror will not decide based on the facts or has their own agenda, they can make for cause arguments to strike the juror or use a peremptory strike to remove them.

Of course, the prosecution will want jurors who are ready to convict someone of homicide and keep out those who are sympathetic to the defense. Our team can help ensure that jurors are fairly selected so you have a fighting chance of defending your case. While the trial is the main affair, jury selection is arguably the most important aspect of a homicide case.

Examination of Potential Jurors

Rule 18(b) gives the prosecution and defendant the right to examine prospective jurors. This means that both sides will ask questions to gauge people’s attitudes about issues that will be important to the case. For instance, in jury selection for a homicide trial, we would likely ask if anyone there has been affected by a homicide or other violent crime. If some do, we might need to strike them if they cannot decide your case without their emotions taking control.

The court – meaning the judge, specifically – is also allowed to question prospective jurors, too. However, this could open up a line of inquiry the attorneys had not planned on or were not questioning about yet. Fortunately, our lawyers will be able to supplement the judge’s line of questioning with our own if the court brings up a topic that must be addressed.

The questions can be asked of individual jurors or the jury panel as a whole. If a juror makes a bias or attitude known that our team thinks would hurt your trial, Rule 18(c)(2) gives us the right to challenge the juror’s presence with either peremptory challenges or challenges for cause. However, these challenges must be made before the jury is sworn in. If you have a bad feeling about a juror during our questioning, be sure to let us know.

Peremptory Challenges for Individual Jurors

Peremptory challenges are typically used by the prosecution and defense to strike jurors from the selection process. Under Rule 18(d), attorneys do not need to provide a reason for why they wish to strike a juror if they are using a peremptory challenge, and the court will not ask.

However, our lawyers will not have an unlimited amount of these challenges to spend. In capital homicide cases, we are allowed ten peremptory challenges. If your homicide did not result in a capital case, we will get four peremptory challenges for a felony homicide trial. We must use these challenges wisely, and when we cannot explain to the court specifically why a juror should be omitted.

Challenging Jurors for Cause

The other type of challenge we can make is for cause. Here, we need to have a reason to strike a juror as per Rule 18(e). According to Utah Code § 78B-1-105(1), jurors cannot serve if they are not U.S. citizens 18 years or older. Jurors must also be residents of the county where the trial is happening, as well as reading and speaking English. Utah Code § 78B-1-105(2) also prevents convicted felons from serving as jurors. If we do raise an objection to a juror, the prosecution will be given the opportunity to argue against it. After hearing arguments, the court will decide the issue.

Rule 18(e)(10) is particularly important in capital homicide cases where the selected jury could sentence the defendant to death. In capital punishment cases, jurors can be struck for cause if their views on the death penalty would impair their ability to fulfill their duties and decide the case on the facts.

For instance, we would challenge a juror for cause if their views on capital homicide or racial bias would prevent them from acting impartially. We would also challenge jurors that the defendant knows or has had business dealings with. Some jurors are not allowed to serve on a jury as a matter of law and can be removed.

If we can make a valid argument that a juror is not likely to decide the case impartially, the court can strike them for cause. Unlike peremptory challenges, there is no limit on those for cause.

Our Utah Homicide Defense Attorneys Can Help You Select a Jury in Your Case

For a free case review, contact our Park City homicide defense attorneys at Overson Law, PLLC by calling (801) 758-2287.